How to Use Masks and Overlays in Lightroom

Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.

How to use masks and overlay in lightroom tutorial

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How to Use Masks and Overlays in Lightroom

Basic Mask and overlay settings in Lightroom and how to use them

Understand how to use the masks and overlays feature in Lightroom editing to edit your photos better. Mask settings explained for beginners!

Anthony Morganti shows an easy to follow tutorial for using the mask and overlay feature in Lightroom.



Learn the basics of how to use masks and overlays in lightroom with this tutorial!

What are masks and overlays in Lightroom and what do they do? 

A Mask is the term in Lightroom for a selection of the image that any editing will affect. Only the masked part of the image will be changed when you have a mask on and do any editing.

This is really handy if, like in this tutorial example, you only want to adjust settings like brightness, exposure, and texture on the sculpture subject and leave the sky background alone.


For a full editing guide for beginners on Lightroom, check out these tutorials:


How to use masks and overlays in lightroom: Apply a Mask to the image

Start by opening Lightroom, and importing the photo you want to edit. Then click Develop to enter the editing mode. 

The little circle on the right under the histogram on the left opens the mask settings. Click Select Subject to show a subject mask.

A generic red overlay will appear over the subject in the photo. The red is showing you what part of the image the mask is applied to.

Add a mask to the image How to use masks and overlays in lightroom


The settings you can use to change the mask settings appear in a new menu bar for Masks, or down underneath the image in the toolbar.

(Toggle the toolbar on if you don’t see it by hitting t on your keyboard). 

Lightroom’s masking tool is pretty accurate at selecting the correct object to mask which is really cool.

You can click +Create Mask to add another mask to the image.

Create a new mask in lightroom


Mask Settings: Mask Overlay Mode

Under the mask bar that has appeared, If you select the three dots next to the show overlay line, you can choose different overlay views:

  • Color Overlay: the red overlay you see by default
  • Color overlay on B&W: this makes everything else black and white and your mask area still red
  • Image on B&W: shows no overlay but makes the background black and white
  • Image on Black: no overlay but the background is black
  • Image on White: no overlay but the background is white
  • White on Black: White overlay of the mask area on black background

You can also choose when the overlay will show while you are editing. By deselecting Automatically Toggle Overlay, you will always see the overlay unless you are adjusting an editing slider.

Mask and overlay settings in lightroom

Mask Settings: Show pins and Tools

On the subject mask, when you hover the mouse over the image, you can see a little pin on the masked area. You can hover of the pin to toggle the overlay off or on. This pin will also select the mask you want to work on, for example if you have multiple masks. You can click on the pin in the image to change to editing that mask area. 

The Pin settings can be adjusted in the show pins and tools menu:

  • Auto: shows the pin when mouse is on the picture and disappears when editing
  • Always: the pin always appears in the masked area
  • Selected: if there is more than one mask on the image and more than one pin, you will only see the pin of the mask you have selected
  • Never: pin is never visible

Or you can uncheck the box next to Show Overlay if you don’t want to see it at all. 

In this screenshot the pin area is expanded for emphasis on what the subject pin looks like:

How to use masks and overlays in lightroom showing the pin on the mask


Show Unselected Mask Pins

If you deselect this you won’t see pins for all masks, only the one you have selected. If it’s selected, then you can see all pins for all masks in the image.

Click a pin to select that mask to work on.

This screenshot shows both the sky mask pin and the subject mask pin, and the overlay on the selected mask:

Show all mask pins how to use masks an overlays in lightroom


Color Overlay Settings

Use this to choose what color the overlay on the mask is if you don’t love the red. You can change the overlay mode from this tool as well.

The options under ‘Overlay shows’ allows you to choose if the overlay is showing on the affected area or on the unaffected areas (such as on the subject or on the sky).

You can get to this also by clicking on the red box next to Show Overlay in the Mask menu bar.

Change the color settings on overlay in lightroom masks


Editing in Lightroom using masks and overlays is an easy and effective way to edit

Use masks and change the overlay settings however you want now that you know how to use them. 

Want to up your photography skills? Check out this comprehensive guide to improve your photography!

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Which of these Lightroom mask and overlay editing tips will you apply THIS WEEK?

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